International Palm Society LogoChuniophoenix in Cultivation

Reprinted with permission from the October 1998 issue of Principes, Vol 42, No 4
Journal of the International Palm Society (Renamed as Palms in 1999)

1998 The International Palm Society, all rights reserved

SCOTT ZONA

Fairchild Tropical Gardens, 1935 Old Cutler Road, Miami, Florida 33156 USA (address for correspondence) and Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33199 USA

Among the genera of Asiatic Coryphoideae, Chuniophoenix is certainly one of the most enigmatic. These attractive palms are still uncommon in nurseries and on seed lists, but our experience at Fairchild Tropical Garden (FTG) suggests that they deserve to be more widely grown. There are only two species in the genus. Chuniophoenix hainanensis Burret (Figs. 1,2) was the first species to be described. Burret (1937) named the genus after Professor W. Y. Chun, then-director of the Botanical Institute, College of Agriculture, Sun Yatsen University (now Zhongshan University), Guangzhou, China. The species epithet refers to the palm's island home, Hainan. Three years later, Burret (1940) described a second species, Chuniophoenix nana Burret (see Back Cover), from Vietnam in the vicinity of Hanoi. The specific epithet means "dwarf," and describes the habit of this palm. A third species, C. humilis C. Z. Tang and T. L. Wu, was described in 1977 from Hainan (Tang and Wu 1977), but this name is a taxonomic synonym of C. nana. Plants cultivated under the name C. humilis should be called C. nana. Both species have been growing in FTG since 1985. As they are mature and fruiting, we have the opportunity to compare the two species with each other, as well as with other coryphoid palms. FTG has one mature plant of C. hainanensis and several mature plants of C. nana. Although molecular evidence (Uhl et al. 1995) and technical details (Uhl and Dransfield 1987) point to Kerriodoxa as the closest relative to Chuniophoenix, the two genera are dissimilar in a number of obvious ways and would never be confused. Unlike Kerriodoxa, both species of Chuniophoenix are caespitose (suckering) palms. The leaves of Chuniophoenix lack hastulae, whereas those of Kerriodoxa have hastulae. The leaves of Chuniophoenix also lack the white scales on their undersides that are so characteristic of Kerriodoxa. It is the inflorescence of Chunlophoenix that immediately distinguishes it from Kerriodoxa and all other genera of the Corypholdeae. The peduncular bracts are green (becoming brown with age), tubular and tightly clasping around the jointed rachillae. Even the bracteoles that subtend each flower or flower cluster are tubular and clasping. Burret (1937) and Uhl and Dransfield (1987) noted the resemblance of the Chuniophoenix infloreseence to those of certain Calamoideae. The two species of Chuntophoenix are readily distinguished from each other, even in the vegetative condition. The obvious difference is size: C. nana has stems <2 cm in diameter and leaf blades <40 cm in diameter, but C hainanensis has stems ca. 15 cm in diameter and leaf blades ca. 120 cm in diameter. The habit of C. nana is reminiscent of species of Rhapis, with tight clusters of stems each <1.5 in tall. FTG's C. hainanensis, flowering for the first time at eleven years old, has stems <0.5 in tall; their ultimate height is unknown but probably not >3-4 in. The petioles of both species are unarmed, deeply channelled on the upper side, and rounded below. In C. hainanensis they are vested with a powdery white indumentum on the abaxial surface and are 80-90 cm long. The petioles of C. nana are glabrous and 28-39 cm long. In C. nana, the leaf sheath is tubular and unsplit. The leaf sheaths of FTG's specimen of C. hainanensis are also unsplit, although those of much older specimens in the South China Botanical Garden, Guangzhou (Fig. 2), are split as in Thrinax (J. Dransfield, personal communication).

Both species possess costapalmate leaves. The costa extends briefly into the blade, but the leaf is noteworthy in lacking a hastula. The segment apices are acute, not bifid as in many other genera. The lamina color of both species is blue-green, but not glaucous, on both surfaces. The leaves of C. hainanensis typically have 40-43 segments per leaf, and those segments are 59-64 cm long and 4.0-4.5 cm wide. The leaves of C. nana have only 21-23 segments, and they are grouped in six or seven clusters of three and five segments each. The individual segments are 26-35 cm long and ca. I cm wide. The inflorescences of both species are borne among the leaves, one per node. That of C. hainanensis is longer, to ca. 100 cm, and branched to two orders; whereas the inflorescence of C. nana is ca. 40 cm long and only once branched. In C. nana, the flowers are borne singly (rarely paired) along the rachillae, but in C. hainanensis flowers are borne in small clusters along the rachillae. Both species blossom in winter and early spring (November-April) in Miami.

The flowers of these palms are similar in size and shape, but dissimilar in fragrance and color (and perhaps in pollinators). The flowers are ca. 9.5 mm across, with a loose, membranous, cupulate calyx, and three strongly reflexed petals. There are six stamens, the inner whorl of which is strongly fused to the upper surfaces of the petals for about half the length of the filaments. A single cylindrical gynoecium is found in the center of the flower. The flower of C. nana is white with yellow anthers and is sweetly scented. That of C. hainanensis is burgundy red with yellow anthers and a greenish-yellow gynoecium, and it has a sour, slightly unpleasant aroma. Uhl and Dransfield (1987) reported that some plants are polygamodioecious (bearing both bi-sexual and unisexual flowers). All of FTG's plants are hermaphroditic. The flower clusters in ...

This excerpt is the first two pages of the article that originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of Principes.  Scott Zona became co-editor of Palms formerly Principes in June 1999 when Natalie Uhl stepped down as our highly esteemed editor of 20 years.  Natalie continues to participate as Associate Editor.  Back issues are available through our online shopping cart while supplies last.

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